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Life after Murali sweet for Herath

The career of Sri Lanka's record-breaking transformed following the retirement of Test cricket's greatest wicket-taker

While Sri Lanka's batsmen have struggled to fill the sizeable shoes vacated by legendary duo Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, the same cannot be said for life after Muthiah Muralidaran.

And that is thanks to one man – cricket's unassuming assassin, Rangana Herath. 

Herath hit the headlines again this week in becoming the first left-arm spinner to 400 Test wickets and the first bowler to take 100 Test wickets against Pakistan when he spectacularly bowled his side to victory with 6-43 in the second innings on the final day of the first Test in Abu Dhabi. 

It meant only Muralidaran (72 Tests), Sir Richard Hadlee and Dale Steyn (both 80) have reached the 400-wicket milestone – a club now occupied by 14 bowlers – in fewer matches than Herath's 84. 

Which is all the more remarkable when you consider the first 11 years of his career, which – not coincidentally – coincided with the period in which Murali roamed the planet as the most devastating wicket-taker the game has ever seen. 

Herath debuted as a 21-year-old in September 1999, picked as the second spinner alongside Muralidaran against Australia. He took six wickets in two drawn Tests, and didn't play again for nine months before going wicket-less against Pakistan (for the only time in his career against that opposition). 

The penalty for that display was almost four years out of the Test arena, and so it went for much of the rest of the decade; called upon on occasion when Sri Lanka required two or three spinners, but rarely considered a permanent member of the team. 

So when Sri Lanka mourned the departure of Muralidaran from Test cricket, a 32-year-old Herath saw opportunity. 

And in seven years since, he has emphatically delivered. 

Sri Lanka storm to final-day victory

Throughout the Muralidaran era, the left-armer played 22 Tests and garnered 71 wickets at an average of 37.88 and a strike-rate of 75.8. 

Post Muralidaran (from July 23, 2010), Herath's numbers are staggering: 62 Tests, 329 wickets at 25.64. In the same period, only James Anderson has more wickets (341 in 81 Tests). 

The Sri Lankan has also collected nine 10-wicket match hauls since his off-spinning teammate's retirement, placing him equal third in Test history behind only Muralidaran (22 times) and Shane Warne (10). 

Perhaps most tellingly, Herath's strike-rate in that period is 56 – Muralidaran's career mark was 55, which effectively means wickets for Sri Lanka via their ageless tweaker are taking them just a single delivery longer than they did throughout Muralidaran's legendary reign. 

The 39-year-old was also the oldest man to reach the 400 Test wicket mark, and the time taken from debut to the milestone was the longest of anyone in the group of 14. 

Herath said earlier this year that he was targeting 400 Test wickets, and while he will play the second Test against Pakistan from Friday, it remains to be seen if he will line up for a three-Test series against India, beginning November 16. 

If he does decide to call it quits, recent history suggests another young Sri Lankan spinner will surely fill the breach.

Rangana Herath – Milestone Man

- Second Sri Lankan to reach 400 Test wickets

- Oldest player to reach 400 Test wickets

- First player to take 100 Test wickets against Pakistan

- Equal-third (with Sir Richard Hadlee) most 10-wicket match hauls (9)

Herath in the Murali era

- Tests: 22. Wickets: 71. Average: 37.88. Strike-rate: 75.8. 5wi: 4 10wm: 0 

Herath in the post-Murali era

- Tests: 62. Wickets: 329. Average: 25.64. Strike-rate: 56. 5wi: 25 10wm: 9